All but unknown to Czech football fans a month ago, Jan Kliment's hat-trick against Serbia has propelled him into the limelight and given the hosts hope of a semi-final place.
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It often happens: one player emerges from relative obscurity at a final tournament to become a household name in the space of a couple of weeks, the definition of a meteoric rise. At the 2015 UEFA European Under-21 Championship, Jan Kliment could well be that man.
To describe Kliment as a virtual unknown would be to overstate just how little recognised the striker was before the tournament started. The Jihlava man had provided just two goals in 15 top-flight appearances last season, and had found the net on only three occasions in his entire career in the Czech top division – hardly stats to make people sit up and take notice. Fortunately for him, one person did: Jakub Dovalil.
Even so, Kliment's presence at the pre-tournament training camp in Austria was seen as the Czech coach giving an untried youngster experience of the U21 scene with the future in mind, letting him dip his toe in the water rather than throwing him in at the deep end. Within 180 minutes of Group A football, however, Kliment has kept his – and his team's – head above water, and ensured every Czech fan is now singing his name.
"It's a great feeling, a great day, not just for me but for all the boys, but it's not such a surprise because we played well in the first game," Kliment told UEFA.com after his hat-trick had eased the hosts to a 4-0 win against Serbia at the Letná Stadium. "This time we kept it up, we didn't let the game slip through our fingers and we played well right to the end."
The hosts' promising but fruitless display in defeat by Denmark in their opening game had mirrored Kliment's own performance. He did enough, however, to convince Dovalil to keep him in the side to face Serbia, and the Czech Republic boss's astute judgement was rewarded. His charge, who turns 22 in September, provided the sharpest of cutting edges to his team's inspired play, scoring only the third hat-trick in U21 EURO final tournament history.
"The first two goals were almost the same. The first one, Matěj Hybš gave me a wonderful pass and I finished it — it was more or less a tap-in," Kliment, who can also play in midfield, said humbly. "The third one was more complicated, but the goalkeeper made it easier for me because he came out, and I just had to hit the target."
Kliment was given a deserved ovation when substituted eight minutes from time, and was feted by his team-mates, who — like the Czech football public — are only just beginning to discover the talents of their quietly-spoken, new-found hero.
"I think Jan Kliment is really enjoying his time with the team. He really showed to everyone that he is ready to play," defender Tomáš Kalas told UEFA.com. "
Though he is two years younger than the oldest guys here, he took his chance, and all the better for us."